Hurtful stereotypes

“You’re too young to be so sick….Oh, you are slow. You walk like you’re 80 years old.”  -Lab tech 

S and I got up early today to get my lab work done. When I saw my favorite lab tech was working, I told S that I hoped I’d get her again. But I had no such luck. I was shown into a room by an unfamiliar face, and she managed to say plenty of ignorant things in the short time I was with her. She didn’t know that I’d spent yesterday on the couch, feeling nauseous and worn out. She didn’t realize that I am still grieving the loss of the life I had before POTS. She didn’t know that I’d challenged myself to walk in the lab instead of using my transport chair. However, she still commented on my illness (which she admits she’s never heard of before today).

Her words hurt. I felt angry, misunderstood, and judged. I didn’t correct her or share my frustrations with her because there was no point. She wasn’t going to truly listen because she wasn’t interested. She’d made up her mind about me. I don’t think she meant to hurt me with her words, but that didn’t make them hurt any less.

I am a young woman with a chronic illness. I would love to live like most people my age (or even walk like them), but that is not possible right now. I don’t enjoy scheduling medical appointments, and I never thought this would be how I would spend much of my twenties. But it’s my reality, and I am doing my best to choose joy and be grateful.

Lately, life has been teaching me an uncomfortable lesson: Even with good intentions, words and actions can deeply hurt others. I have looked inside myself to see how my ignorance or selfishness causes others pain, and I am pushing myself to be more mindful of what I say and do. I am slowly making progress in that area (although I know it’s something that I will always need to consider). Today I was on the receiving end of ignorance. It hurts to be summed up by a stranger in under 10 minutes.

I felt defined by an illness I did not choose. 

I’ve thought about the other things I did not choose. I am a white woman, born in the United States. I didn’t have control over my gender, race, where I was born, or my parents’ ability to provide for me, but those things influence how I see the world. What if I’d been born into a different life? How would I see the world? Would I care more about current events? Would my heart break for different things? How would I feel about someone like me?

As I reflect on my interaction this morning, I still feel frustrated and hurt. But I must also remember that there have been times I’ve judged others on a part of themselves they did not choose, like race, gender, or neighborhood. I see that same judgment all around me. The past few weeks, I’ve read too many ignorant, hurtful words. I’ve heard too many people make comments about others who they’ve never met or tried to understand. And that is wrong, even if it’s not meant to cause harm. I am selfish when I do not look for the good in others or try to understand their point of view. If I do not try to see the humanity of those around me, then I will cause harm. When we judge people by their demographics and status, we promote ignorance.

Today, I decide to look at the whole person. Today, I choose to look past stereotypes. I will acknowledge that we are all shaped by the things we did not choose, but I will look past the surface to see the person next to me. I hope you can do the same.

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